I have been researching technology collaboration between research universities and corporations. There are brilliant students and professors in university research programs but limited funding. Companies are hungry for innovations to fill their pipeline and generally have substantial resources. This week we’ll take a look at the practice of technology transfer and point out some of the successes of the last few years.
In my AIM innovations course we debate potential sources of ideas. Sometimes it seems as if companies are pulling from a dry well or merely creating extensions of existing technologies because that is what they are most familiar with. Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” This is true when trying to diagnose psychological issues or developing breakthrough technology solutions. Student scientists, researchers and inventors often have no knowledge of what has or has not worked in the past. They ask “what if” as if there were no barriers and proceed to develop new products and applications.
Here at the University of Oregon there have been several technology transfers in recent years, both to existing companies and new companies spun off for the purpose of commercializing research. One of the most recent start-ups is Suprasensor which focuses on precision agriculture or what they call “the introduction of science and technology to farm management.” They have developed green farming practices by using sensors which enable growers to use less water and fertilizer while enjoying a greater yield.
On the UO campus, the new Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact seeks to turn laboratory discoveries into tangible innovations that improve lives. This program is just getting off the ground thanks to a generous donation and promises to work with other universities and corporations in breakthrough solutions. Also here at home, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) was formed to coordinate research and commercialization work done by companies and academics in the state and help create new products.
From Research To Application
The nicotine patch came out of research from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). The technology was developed and patented by UCLA and licensed by Ciba-Geigy as a commercial product. This is a great example of university research that led to a beneficial and potentially lifesaving product for millions.
The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) grew out of the early University of Oregon Medical School in order to expand education and research and to include new focus areas such as biotechnology and biomedicine. A search of the OHSU license portfolio reveals new drugs, devices, and therapies that benefit people worldwide but also helps the university through revenue that can be put back into research for breakthrough treatments. It is a cycle for the university and an example of a profitable collaboration that can save or improve lives for patients.
Research and development is not as efficient or effective when done by one cloistered group. It pays to collaborate with others and reach outside of the traditional walls of development to discover new ideas. That graduate researcher may have just the answer you have been looking for.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.